How to Deal with a Bad Reference

When applying for work, employers typically ask for at least three professional references to get an indication of your character, professionalism and skills. And unfortunately, a bad reference can put the brakes on a job offer. References are an inescapable part of the job search, and if you think a former employer doesn’t have good things to say about you, you might panic. Stay calm — there are techniques for dealing with a bad reference.

See also: How to Ask Your Job for a Reference for Another Job

1. Don't List Your Former Employer as a Reference

If an interviewer asks for references, he might not specify a desire to speak with your current or most recent employer. Since any professional reference can work, don’t mention anyone you feel will give a bad reference. If you had a bad relationship with your head supervisor at a previous job, exclude this person and provide the contact information of another one of your superiors, perhaps your team leader.

2. Warm Employer About the Possibility of a Bad Reference

Most future employers don’t check references until after an interview. The interview is an appropriate time to warn the interviewer that your former employer might give a bad reference – so he’s not caught off guard. Briefly explain why you think a previous employer will give a bad reference, but you don’t have to go into a lot of details. At the same time, mention that you’ve taken your former employer’s complaints into consideration and you’ve made necessary improvements.

For example, if you believe a former employer may complain about your inability to be punctual, let the interviewer know you’ve created a routine and schedule that guarantees you’ll arrive on time every day.

3. Call Your References in Advance

Always notify people you use as a character or professional reference in advance. If you believe a former employer will give a bad reference, this is also your chance to make amends. Be honest and explain that you’re applying for a job and need a good reference. Acknowledge and apologize for any problems you might have caused, and briefly explain the steps you’ve taken to become a better employee. After this phone call, he might feel comfortable giving a good reference.

4. Include Good References to Balance Out a Bad One

As much as you don’t want to list a former or current employer as a reference, you might need to include this reference because you’re applying for a position in the same field. In this case, make sure you also include contact information for two people you know will give a stellar recommendation. This helps balance out the bad reference. The other two can be a coworker or another supervisor you worked under.

5. Contact the HR Department If You Don't Agree with a Reference

On the other hand, you might think you’ll receive an amazing reference from a previous employer but you’re blindsided with a bad one. If you completely disagree with the reference, call your former company’s HR department and explain your side of the story. It could be a different understanding of expectations. It’s a long shot, but if Human Resources agrees with you, ask the company to modify the reference.

See also: What is a Good Reference and How Do I Get One?

The job market is flooded with qualified candidates, so you need every resource at your disposal to get your foot in the door. And unfortunately, it only takes one bad reference to slow down your job search efforts.